Two separate Catholic organizations have put their Framingham properties on the market, opening up opportunities not often seen in the built-up town: sizable chunks of developable land.
The two properties — the 37.5-acre Marist Retreat Center bordering the Massachusetts Turnpike and a 32-acre portion of the Sisters of St. Joseph property on Bethany Road — are both zoned for residential development as well as nonprofit uses.
The timing is a coincidence, according to the groups, but both have enlisted the services of Wyman Street Advisors, a Waltham company that specializes in selling and leasing commercial property. The Archdiocese of Boston does not control the properties.
“Obviously, we want the highest price possible, but we also want the offer with the highest likelihood to close,” said Wyman Street Advisors’ Charles Batchelder, speaking of the site owned by the Marist Fathers & Brothers, a Roman Catholic organization founded in France almost 200 years ago. He expects the property will sell for between $4 million to $8 million.
Along with a beautiful and historic campus that spans both sides of Route 30 and has a half-mile of MassPike frontage, the Marist Retreat Center buyer will get a 45,000-square-foot former retreat center, a 5,000-square-foot residence hall, and a pond. The Marists had lived there for 72 years when the six remaining Marist fathers and brothers left the property and moved to Waltham last year.
Batchelder said the Marists want to make the sale “a ‘win-win’ for the brothers and neighbors.” He said although they’d like the buyer to use the site’s existing structures, the Marists also want to make sure the deal will go through, even if it’s a residential development.
So far, about a dozen parties have expressed interest including schools, hospitals, retreat centers, and residential developers, said Batchelder. No one has yet made an offer on the property that’s assessed at $5.34 million.
The Sisters of St. Joseph site is on the market for $12 million and includes a 180-room, 110,000-square-foot residence hall where the sisters used to live. It was completely renovated in 1999 and is in pristine condition, said Batchelder. The property also includes a 10,000-square-foot administration building.
Sister Joanne Gallagher, director of communications for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, said the buyer’s plans must be in line with the sisters’ mission, especially since the group will continue operating their much-lauded Bethany Health Care Center skilled nursing facility and Bethany Hill School next door. The school provides housing and educational opportunities to individuals and families hoping to better their lives, she said.
“We want to continue to be good neighbors. We are longtime residents of Framingham,” said Gallagher. A Framingham family deeded the property to the sisters in 1916 to continue their mission of connecting people to God, people, and the world, she said.
Batchelder said a lot of nonprofits and a few colleges are interested. And Gallagher said the sisters could support a residential development depending on the developer’s plans.
Framingham Planning Board member Sue Bernstein said zoning at both properties also allows for single-family homes with 20,000-square-foot lots, but that any residential subdivision plans must be approved by her board.
A subdivision could be a good thing for Framingham, said Bernstein, who has sold real estate locally for 35 years and been a Planning Board member for 21 years.
She said there have been no major subdivision projects for years, and that Framingham could use more moderately priced homes.
“The market in Ashland has tons and tons of young subdivisions that are all populated by young families and it’s a nice community,” said Bernstein.
Another option that might be available to developers is cluster zoning that the Planning Board has been preparing for Town Meeting approval, said Bernstein. The changes would permit denser residential development while allowing for more open space and a reduction in environmental impacts and infrastructure needs, she said. She said although she hasn’t yet heard from concerned neighbors, people typically don’t want developments built near their homes.
Batchelder said that his two religious clients represent a growing trend of nonprofits selling off chunks of property to better fulfill their missions, especially as their membership dwindles.
The Sisters of St. Joseph own 85 acres total on Bethany Road assessed at $46.4 million.
“A lot of these nonprofits are sitting on very valuable real estate,” he said.